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Meanwhile Lozman's buddy Mikelis, a 79-year-old who wears a back brace and walks with a heavy limp, maintains that Coletta has harassed him as well. Coletta, he says, tried to evict him from the marina in early May. In the eviction notice, Coletta claimed that Mikelis was on a month-to-month rental basis and could be removed at any time without cause. Mikelis hired Matthew Dietz, a Miami lawyer specializing in discrimination against the disabled and the elderly, and Dietz has since requested a temporary injunction to stop the eviction, contending that Coletta is in violation of fair-housing laws. After serving the eviction notice, Mikelis says, Coletta confronted him at his doorstep. "He told me if I didn't shut up, he'd take care of me," says the World War II veteran, who keeps a nickel-plated .32-caliber pistol within reach. "That's my smallest weapon," he adds, his pale blue eyes gleaming. He also packs a .357 magnum inside a duffle bag along with a license to carry a concealed weapon.
The feud might have remained a bitter but unremarkable legal dispute between an irate marina owner and two outraged tenants had it not been for that April 4 court hearing at which Lozman sought, unsuccessfully, to obtain a restraining order against Coletta. During the hearing he discovered that his former landlord had friends in high places -- namely, on the North Bay Village City Commission. Lozman says he happened to look over Coletta's shoulder and saw that he was reading copies of private correspondence Lozman had written to Commissioner Bob Dugger about the motorcycle incident and other run-ins between the two men. And he remembered that Coletta had once boasted -- before their argument over the access ramp -- that he had "connections" at city hall. "He boasted that he had friends in the police department and on the commission."
Disgusted at the apparent political collusion, Lozman went home that day and set out to uncover the connections between Al Coletta and Bob Dugger. In the months that followed he became an expert on North Bay Village's organized-crime lore and more recent public corruption and skullduggery in his own back yard. Along the way he vowed to take down the man he calls a "wannabe capo." "Coletta is used to intimidating people around here," Lozman says, "but he fucked with the wrong guy. He and Dugger are finished in this town."
Incorporated in 1945, North Bay Village comprises three manmade islands -- Harbor, Treasure, and North Bay -- built on the muck dredged from the bottom of Biscayne Bay and linked to Miami and Miami Beach by the 79th Street (Kennedy) Causeway. During the Sixties the bayside town developed a reputation as the New York and Chicago mobs' private enclave under the sun. Known informally as Sin City, it was a place where a multitude of nightspots stayed open till dawn and hookers roamed freely, where Rat Pack celebrities hung out after their shows at the Collins Avenue hotels (Dean Martin owned a swanky joint named Dino's), and where, on Halloween night in 1967, Thomas "The Enforcer" Altamura was gunned down by Anthony "Big Tony" Esperti at the Place for Steak, a venerable restaurant popular with mobsters. According to one law-enforcement report from that period, police had "pinpointed Dade's largest concentration of undesirables in North Bay Village."
In the Eighties attention shifted to the village's police department, when the FBI took down three police officers who were later convicted of selling protection to an agent posing as a drug smuggler. Two years ago the village hired a new police chief to clean house -- Irving Heller, a former assistant director of the Miami-Dade County Police Department.
Growing up in Miami, Lozman remembered the old stories of North Bay Village's past ties with organized-crime figures. "Coletta's line 'drifting in the bay' just stuck with me," he says. "Who says that shit to people except mob guys?" Lozman conducted an Internet search and turned up articles on the mobsters who once called the island home, men like Charlie "the Blade" Tourine, the reputed capo for New York's Genovese crime family who, it was said, earned his nickname for his skill with a knife. Miami police had questioned Tourine after the 1976 murder of mobster Johnny Roselli, whose decomposed remains, stuffed inside a 55-gallon drum, were found drifting in Biscayne Bay. "Gee," Lozman quipped mischievously, "does Al know what happened to Roselli?"
He also found articles about Al Coletta's involvement in North Bay Village politics, including a New Times story prior to the 2000 elections. During that political season Bob Dugger was one of three candidates running with enthusiastic support from Coletta, who provided his "slate" with free campaign headquarters in a storefront he owns at the Bayshore condominium. He also paid for promotional materials, reproducing the well-known Uncle Sam recruitment poster and adding the slogan: "Come Join the Team." At the time, Coletta told New Times, he supported Dugger, who ultimately lost, because he wanted to see a city commission that would "give something back to the people for a change."
Dugger had also run unsuccessfully in 1998. It wasn't until this past November that he finally won a seat on the commission. (North Bay Village holds a municipal election every two years to fill the mayor's position and four commission seats.) Being political allies was one thing, Lozman figured, but then he heard that the ties went even deeper: Coletta had bailed his friend out of some serious financial trouble, a neighbor told him. So this past April, Lozman headed for the Miami-Dade County Clerk's Office to sift through property records and tax documents.